Albania: An Incredible Turnaround
When the Church functions rightly, there is absolutely nothing like her on the face of the earth.
I have just returned home from Albania, the most devastated of all former Communist countries.
Most of the Churches were either destroyed or heavily damaged. The Cathedral in the capital, Tirana, was leveled and a 13-story hotel was built on top of it.
The other Orthodox Church was stripped of all Christian symbolism, including the iconostasis and the altar, and turned into a gymnasium.
The two-lane highways that link town to town are the worst I have ever navigated. With the infrastructure in such deplorable repair, the electricity may go off two or three times a day. The water supply is iffy as well, and hot water a luxury. Buildings put up under the Communist regime are only a decade or two old, and they are already falling apart.
Despite all this, the Orthodox Church in Albania is being gloriously reborn.
The catalyst behind this modern-day resurrection is Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, a man who knows how to discern the will of God and then do it. Since the fall of Communism he has built 74 new churches, renovated five monasteries and 65 church structures, and repaired 130 other churches. In addition, he has built a seminary and a monastery on a hill overlooking the city of Durres, at which 110 men have been trained and ordained to the clergy.
In mid-December, I spent a week teaching the Bible there to 57 students.
Two American missionary families are serving in Albania--Father Luke Veronis, with his wife Faith and toddler son, and evangelical converts Nathan and Lynette Hoppe and their two-year-old son.
Why do I call Albania an incredible Orthodox turnaround?
1. The joy of the people. I expected to find hopelessness. People have existed for years in poverty, both spiritually and materially. Even after Communism's collapse, ruthless investment charlatans across the country introduced a Ponzi scheme in which tens of thousands of people lost their meager life savings. Widespread political unrest again swept the country.
It was against this backdrop that 900,000 refugees from the NATO bombing of Kosovo streamed into Albania last spring. The Albanian people opened their unheated and crumbling homes to them. It was especially moving for me to meet a newly widowed woman in her 20s, whose husband had been killed in the conflict, and her two small children.